Post-unlock, people still breaching Covid-caution
The crowds flocking to the malls, the traffic snarls on the highways caused by tourists vehicles and the rush in train stations suggest the lessons of the past two surges have been lost on the masses. Indeed, going by the pictures of river-ghats packed with devotees, it would seem like AIIMS director Randeep Guleria’s warnings about a third wave are not being heeded at all. Guleria has said the third could be just six-eight weeks away if Covid-appropriate behaviour is not followed.
Moreover, the current benign environment ahead of the third wave will not matter unless the vaccination proceeds at a brisk pace and people are disciplined. The fact that, amid all that, Covid-appropriate behaviour—correct and consistent mask use, distancing, hand sanitation, etc—still seems to be missing from the peoples’ consciousness portends another rise and another lockdown prescription, hobbling the economy even as it begins to regain ground.
ICMR head of epidemiology and infectious diseases, Samiran Panda, told Outlook magazine in an interview that while it is difficult to comment on the inevitability of the third wave without taking account various factors, including behavioural and social, increased vaccination cover and Covid-appropriate behaviour will be of paramount importance in staving this off.
While many experts see a national seroprevalence study as one of the factors that will guide our understanding of the risks of a third wave, its severity and other related aspects, the emergence of the Delta and Delta-plus variants has queered the pitch drastically.
The fact that Delta—that is understood to have far deadlier transmissibility and immune-escape capabilities than the wild strain of SARS CoV-2—replaced Alpha over a short span as the most common variant in the UK, and is believed to have been behind India’s deadly second surge, including ‘breakthrough’ cases (though in small numbers) and reinfections, hints strongly that the virus’s evolution in such a devastating manner may not be a black swan event. Against such a backdrop, how effective the antibodies present in people would be were a more transmissible variant to emerge should always seem a sobering prospect.
The need now is to enforce strict penalties against violation of Covid-appropriate behaviour, not just on individuals but also on businesses tolerating this. For instance, a restaurant/shop needs to strictly enforce distancing not just in its premises but in its immediate vicinity also, or simply face temporary closures—such measures can be brought in through the use of the relevant epidemic-specific laws.
India has vaccinated (at least one dose) less than a quarter of its adults so far—vaccination for persons below the age of 18 years is likely to begin only by the end of the year—and even though we are far from the second-surge peak of over 4 lakh new daily infections, the potential for spread still remains high. If citizens and businesses don’t take the due care—and the government has to create awareness about this scientifically, explaining what appropriate behaviour is to the tiniest detail and what could be a breach to the furthest extent that can be imagined—both lives and livelihoods could come in for another hit.